What organisations can learn from a country music-centred approach.


A lyric from a song by Sugarland still flaws me to this day: “Pictures, dishes and socks, It’s our whole life down to one box.” The simple attention to detail is a reminder that country music at it’s foundation is written for humans. Beautifully described by Bill C. Malone, country music is a vigorous hybrid form of music, constantly changing and growing in complexity, just as the society in which it thrives also matures and evolves, with no practical limitations.

I will now offer up a loaded statement: as designers we are finally catching up to country music.

We are beginning to focus not just on customers, but humans. This puts us in an exciting position, we are increasingly adopting a human-centred approach to design to create experiences while adapting to the same technology in tandem ourselves.

Large scale organisations are now (finally) zooming out and focusing their products based on the needs, habits, desires and motivations (as well as the context of use) of their customers whilst balancing this with technical and financial feasibility.

Companies like Netflix, Spotify and Uber have disrupted stagnant industries and markets. Their success is a result of not simply looking at where the industry was at the time, but where they wanted it to be. Bill Monroe did the same for country music in 1948 when he decided to place fiddle, banjo and mandolin at the front line of his music, creating a new style and genre known as bluegrass.

Outside of Appalachia, these companies now continue to experiment, grow, thrive and adapt based on how their customers use their product every day. If we like Netflix and Uber look at the long game, focusing on basic customer needs, habits, desires and motivations this will as assist us in understanding the activities relevant to our designs, products and the expectations of the humans we are designing for.

For the “non-disruptors,” the logical step is not creating small teams in pockets of the organisation, but how they can persist and continuously reimagine where humans are going at an organisational scale.

Time to cowboy up.

Music on the edge

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Summertime in Brooklyn, mustard on your lip. I knew I loved you by the bottom of the fifth.

There is that moment of impact when a song starts playing, you hear a few chords, the downbeat drops in and your mind naturally travels somewhere else.

All cognitive friction is gone. You feel a rush go through your body and for a brief moment everything is tranquil. Your mind is absolutely focused on it’s subtle chord progressions and rich tapestry of words that have now formed a detailed picture.

For three minutes you share that composite character’s experience.

I’m sitting in East Nashville right now, my head is with David Nail in Brooklyn at a Cyclones game, sharing his perfectly detailed heart break. His life is becoming a blur, it’s the end of summer and mascara is running down his lover’s eyes as she ends their relationship.

Isn’t music bloody awesome?

This post was written on October 18, 2013 at Barista Parlor

Drawing from railroads and Kerouac in Nashville

I have been exploring Nashville for just under three months now, lending my own moments to the narrative of the city.

It is a beautiful place, impossible to capture on a single list: micro-breweries, music venues, parks, coffee, custom denim, exquisite BBQ and musicians on Broadway that could be easily mistaken for vagabonds.

The spaces I am drawn to are mostly open, splashed with remnants of 1950s Americana, industrial design and caffeine. They are throwbacks to images described in a Kerouac novel, carved out with their unique individual look and feel.

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imogene willie is a converted petrol station doused with antique motorcycles and a weathered leather couch. The designs speak to rustic Americana, constructed and handmade in-house, each pair custom made to fit the individual human figure.

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Barista Parlor

Barista Parlor is a warehouse space that has been gutted. The roll up doors still operate in the summer, the concrete floor has been sanded (the cracks still apparent) and the the walls covered with worn American flags and mounted deer heads. With long wooden planks acting as tables, Barista Parolor was not built for customers to sit en masse over a Sunday brunch. They also adhere to the conventions of Williamsburg coffee, more commonly known as  known as the 6oz Stumptown flat white.

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Michael Burcham”s Office

Michael Burcham“s office at the EC is covered in industrial design. While he is a figure that represents the “new” Nashville in the business world, his desk is customised and sourced from rail road iron and timber, a subtle salute to an industry that helped build the South.